The road to grid resilience

Source: By Kelsey Tamborrino, Politico • Posted: Monday, March 12, 2018

 When Energy Secretary Rick Perry proposed a FERC rule that would subsidize nuclear and coal power plants, he said he wanted a conversation about grid resilience. Well, he doesn’t have his subsidy, but he’s got a conversation: The nation’s grid operators will deliver their answers to FERC’s 24 questions about resiliency last week, a month ahead of the deadline for everyone else.

What are we talking about again? There’s no clear agreement on just what exactly grid resilience means. FERC has proposed defining it as the network’s ability to withstand and mitigate disruptions, “which includes the capability to anticipate, absorb, adapt to, and/or rapidly recover from such an event.” But no one seems to be fully on board with that. To understand just how confused everyone is on this issue, none of the four energy regulation experts at a roundtable ME attended could agree on how “resilience” should be defined and how it’s different from “reliability.”

PJM Interconnection, which is the largest grid operator, said in a presentation it would recommend some wording tweaks to FERC’s proposed language, including some more mentions of mitigation and preparation.

Meanwhile, the New England grid operator seems focused on its increasing need for natural gas to keep the lights on in the winter. In a presentation of its own, ISO New England said the results of a fuel security study it was undertaking would be crucial to its response to FERC. The study – which has been heavily criticized by green groups – said the region was highly dependent on timely deliveries of LNG to keep plants running during peak demand in the winter and some facilities could be prone to season-long outages.

And who pays? Hardening the grid against the kind of wind and snow storms that hit the Northeast this week will cost money, and making it perfectly reliable would require a mountain of cash. PJM’s presentation focuses on creating “market signals” to ensure resiliency and to make sure generators with certain attributes that provide resiliency would be compensated appropriately.

How about … not that: Not everyone agrees. In its comments to Perry’s original proposal, the California Independent System Operator said it “already has mechanisms in place that ensure the CAISO [Balancing Authority Area] remains reliable and resilient in the face of unexpected loss of supply resources.”

And renewable advocates and environmentalists want to make sure FERC doesn’t do anything that would prop up fossil fuel generation at the expense of renewables and energy storage. They argue that most outages happen at the neighborhood level regulated by states and not because of the big generators and transmission lines regulated by FERC. “We have stressed that grid operators carry a heavy burden to justify any new compensation scheme that would benefit power plant owners while making customers pay more,” John Moore, director of the Sustainable FERC project, wrote in a blog post for the Natural Resources Defense Council.